by Jed Pressgrove
Like its predecessor, 1998’s Resident Evil 2 is pixelated, clunky, and full of cheesy voice acting. Despite often being ugly and awkward, the sequel is a memorable entry in the pop gaming canon because of its setting, an implausible police department (see Ed Smith’s interpretation) that contains a significantly higher number of zombies than Resident Evil’s mansion. The new Resident Evil 2, though, feels like an effort by Capcom to rewrite history in a way that flatters modern audiences as much as possible.
The basic premise remains: play as Leon, a rookie cop, or Claire, a woman looking for her brother. Solve puzzles, find items, kill and run from zombies, and uncover a ridiculous conspiracy. Gamers know the drill. But instead of dealing with the original game’s clumsy tank controls and ever-changing camera angles, you now benefit from a more convenient over-the-shoulder perspective, the same one introduced by Resident Evil 4. With this familiar viewpoint and a more intuitive control scheme, players can more easily take down common foes and run away from Mr. X, a monstrosity who chases you throughout the game. Every recurring enemy can be eliminated even if your aim is only decent, and because you typically hear Mr. X before he finds you, avoiding him tends to be a cinch. Even zombies that threaten to climb through windows pose little issue, thanks to an oversimplified window-boarding mechanic cribbed from the superior Nazi Zombies minigame in Call of Duty: World at War.
One’s progress in this Resident Evil 2 is rarely jeopardized for long. The updated pause menu is a textbook example of design that anticipates almost any hang-up a player might experience while navigating an environment. If you find a key that can fit multiple doors, a red checkmark will appear by the item in the inventory window once you use it on every door it can open. Players don’t have to wonder whether they’ve discovered everything in a particular room; the map window color-codes places that have been relieved of their secrets. A once-messy game has been transformed into a neat and tidy experience, guaranteed to continually satisfy those who just stick to it.
The overhauled graphics also suggest a more orderly work of art. Though you’ll see more believable human faces in The Witcher 3: The Wild Hunt and Detroit: Become Human, the highly technical visuals have a spick-and-span quality to them (notwithstanding the constant blood-letting and an unsettling sequence that involves liquidized fecal matter). The jaggedness of the first Resident Evil 2 wouldn’t woo contemporary eyes, after all. It’s almost as if game history should be cleansed of products without polish, even if smoother-looking imagery lacks the surreal edge of many of yesteryear’s works.
The new voice acting in Resident Evil 2 represents an attempt by Capcom to create an illusion of tangible seriousness in a story that is about as impressive as a halfway dried-up mud puddle. Inexplicably, Leon Kennedy has become a dull character. Voiced by Paul Haddad in the original Resident Evil 2, Leon has never been a deep hero, but Haddad’s cartoonish delivery of Leon’s dialogue brings humor to the proceedings (Paul Mercier would make the cocksure officer even funnier in Resident Evil 4). Nick Apostolides’ more straight-laced interpretation of Leon in this remake fails to express much emotion outside of reserved resoluteness. Lines like “Chew on that, you overgrown son of a bitch” and “I didn’t realize you were keeping score” are intended to be entertaining breaks from the horror, but Apostolides says them with the conviction of a deacon who sleeps through church services. Claire’s new voice, provided by Stephanie Panisello, fares a little better, yet there is a tepid casualness to Panisello’s performance when she utters lines such as “It’s like the end of the world.”
This neutered version of Resident Evil 2 is actually preferable to the last entry in the series, Resident Evil 7, which is a disgusting retread of horror-movie stereotypes with snore-worthy action. This remake at least hints that there was something noteworthy about the 1998 sequel. The irony of a police department corrupted by external (as opposed to internal) forces holds up. Yet almost everything else in this version of Resident Evil 2 seems more normal and proposed by shrewd committee. If Capcom continues to take the series in this digestible direction, the legacy of survival horror, a genre that’s already more flawed than most, doesn’t stand to gain much from an artistic standpoint.